Once, when leading a tour of Israel some 25 years ago, we had to change our itinerary while exploring upper Galilee. There were rockets being launched from Lebanon into Israel.
Not like today, when the rockets are coming from the South, from Gaza; and the planes are bombing Gaza and people are dying.
And not like the day in the fall of 1973 when we saw the jets streak overhead and, a few hours later, the tanks roll through Jerusalem. That was October 6. Shabbat. Yom Kippur. War.
But all of them had this one thing in common: struggle for land, for freedom, for security, for a place to call home, for a way to be the people God has called them to be. Israelis, and Arabs, and Lebanese, and Egyptians—Jews, Christians, Muslims, and people of no faith at all.
I love Israel.
I was predisposed to love the people, the land, and the history. From the day that public bus first took us up from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, just as Shabbat was coming to a close and Mea She’arim was swarming with Orthodox Jews in their black hats, black beards, and black coats, and dropped us off at the Jaffa Gate of Old Jerusalem, I have loved Jerusalem, and Caesarea, and Megiddo, and the Arbel. I have loved the people of the old city and the new city, the sabras and the immigrants, the Muslims and the Jews, the past and the future.
But I don’t love Israel.
Not the segregating, dominating, bombing Israel that refuses to do justice and love mercy in a region filled with second class citizens and first class despair. Not the Israel that demands that its need for space and security always takes priority over the needs of others who also need space and security.
The third-class weapons thrown over desert sands into Israel remind me of the Molotov cocktails used to burn buildings when the urban poor in the United States rebel against the living conditions of the ghettos that too often form the core of our own cities. They are heaves of desperation, a signal to the watching world that things are not right, not fair, not bearable.
Israel has responded far out of proportion to the immediate provocation. Perhaps because they understand that these flimsy projectiles landing in their towns far understate the depth of desperation that fills the streets of places like Gaza. Perhaps because the relative strength of the two combatants—the modernized, militarized nation versus the disorganized, disenchanted tribe—allows Israel to do whatever they want. Like a uniformed officer beating a protestor near unto death.
Which is why my pilgrimages to Israel, the West Bank, and surrounding spaces (Egypt, Jordan, and such) are as much about modern history as ancient history, as much about the plight of the Palestinians as the progress of the Israelis, as much about what the Bible says to us today as what the Bible records for us of yesterday.
Which is why one year from now I plan to be in Jerusalem.
Touring and teaching. Listening and learning. Pointing out and pushing back. Leading a group of courageous travelers and leaving plenty of time and space to, as we say, drink it all in.
Sixteen days from start to finish, beginning in the beautiful coastal city of Caesarea, the center of Roman authority in the time of Jesus, the place where Simon Peter first learned that God is no respecter of persons and receives all who seek after God and strive for justice. Ending with four days in Jerusalem—the walled city, the holocaust memorial called Yad Vashem, and the Dead Sea Scrolls at the Israeli Museum—followed by three days in Egypt: Coptic monasteries, ancient pyramids, and the overwhelming megatropolis called Cairo.
Topography, geography, and geology balance my fascination with history, language, and migration. All filtered through a life-long interest in Jesus: the places where he slept and the people he addressed, the warning he gave and the wisdom he shared. And the place where they laid him and rolled tight the stone.
“Evil men killed him,” Simon Peter said, “but God raised him from the dead.” And it is this risen Lord that calls me to welcome all who seek after truth, serve all who raise empty hands or empty hearts, and bless all who do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.
Come, go with me to Jerusalem. Next year in Jerusalem.